A Necessary Evil

Nelson County Times – Letter to the Editor – September 9, 2015

Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, has supplied drinking water to tens of millions for decades. The Hoover Dam that created Lake Mead supplies electricity to even more millions. Like all infrastructure projects, not everyone supported the idea when it was proposed. Although the project was clearly in the public interest, not everyone whose property was to be submerged by the lake was willing to sell. Fair offer or not, they were not willing to put the public interest ahead of self-interest. I don’t think any reasonable person would suggest that a single individual, or group of individuals should be allowed to deny benefits to tens of millions. Individual rights have to end where they begin to infringe on the rights of others. You can’t scream “fire” in a crowded theater.

A little closer to home, U.S. 29 was a two lane blacktop when I was a child. Over the last four or five decades, many millions of commuters and travelers have benefited from the additional two lanes. Once again, like all infrastructure projects, not everyone supported the idea of widening. Most opponents were those who did not wish to sell property for the additional right-of-way. I completely understand how people who feel like they are under siege might have trouble fully appreciating the public interest, or placing it above their own. It is a sad reality that eminent domain is sometimes the only way to prevent a single individual from denying millions of his/her fellow citizens the pursuit of happiness by way of progress.

The current debate involves the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. If constructed, I believe the line will enable Dominion to deliver relatively clean, safe, and affordable energy to many millions of people for many decades to come. While I don’t want a pipeline on my property any more than anyone else, if FERC decides, as I believe they will, that the project is indeed in the public interest, I am more than willing to subordinate my interest to the public interest. I believe it is just the right thing to do. Even so, I respect the right of others to view it through a different prism.

As for the eminent-domain issue as it relates to the pipeline, I’d note that I generally dislike and distrust government, but I’m not an anarchist. I see government as a necessary evil. Since none of us are angels, we have to be constrained by laws and the government that enforces them. I loathe eminent domain even more than government. I don’t believe there has ever been a more rabid defender of individual property rights. However, since there will always be those who can’t, or won’t, put the public interest ahead of self-interest, eminent domain is also a necessary evil. Without it, no significant infrastructure project would ever be built. We would have no roads, bridges, dams, reservoirs, airports, pipelines, power lines, water or sewer treatment facilities, etc., etc. Our country would be beneath third world status and we’d all be destitute or worse. Again, if we were all angels, there would be no need for eminent domain or government. I believe those who suggest they are not opposed to the pipeline but rather the use of eminent domain to construct it are either being disingenuous or haven’t thought it all the way through. Otherwise they’d have to realize that, like ALL other significant infrastructure projects, it cannot be built without eminent domain.